Sunday, 24 September 2017
This is based on a play by George M.Cohan which in turn was based on a novel by Earl Derr Biggers who was better known as the creator of the Chinese detective Charlie Chan. It was originally filmed in 1917, starring Cohan himself, again in 1925 and several remakes followed including one 1947 and again, in 1983, under the title of HOUSE OF LONG SHADOWS which boasted Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and John Carradine. The version discussed here dates from 1935. A writer accepts a bet that he can write a mystery novel in twenty-four hours while staying overnight in a creepy old deserted hotel. His efforts are continually interrupted by various characters including a gangster, a damsel in distress and the local hermit. Although dated this is quite entertaining if one is able to tune into this kind of old dark house mystery. The lively cast is led by Gene Raymond (bearing a startling resemblance to a young Danny Kaye), Margaret Callahan, Moroni Olsen, Eric Blore, Henry Travers and Walter Brennan. Rating **
Tuesday, 15 August 2017
I read once that this was Ringo Starr's favourite movie. It is certainly a classic of 1950's schlock horror, Coming from producer Herman Cohen it is the prime example of that strange hybrid that combined horror and teenage rebellion, Troubled teenager, Tony, is always getting into fights and eating his hamburger raw. Psychologist, Dr,Brandon, sees Tony as the perfect choice to regress to one of man's more primitive states. Luckily, when one of Tony's friends is killed while walking home through the woods, the janitor at the local morgue, born in the Carpathians, recognises the signs that a werewolf is on the loose. Low-grade nonsense, maybe, but highly enjoyable nonetheless, if you are in the right mood. Cohen went on to produce two more teenage horrors, I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN and BLOOD OF DRACULA and a host of other horror movies well into the 1970's, Gene Fowler Jr. was mainly a television director and his only other notable feature was the under-rated low-budget I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE. Michael Landon, of course, went on to find fame in both BONANZA and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE. Whit Bissell who played Dr.Brandon was a familiar face in films and television and a year later he got tp play Dr.Frankenstein in Cohen's next horror film. Notable among the supporting cast is Guy Williams who is best remembered today as Disney's ZORRO and as Mr.Robinson in LOST IN SPACE. Rating : ***
Monday, 14 August 2017
Burt Reynolds proved that he could direct with the excellent SHARKEY'S MACHINE but there is little evidence of that here. Based on a novel by Elmore Leonard this tale of an ex-jailbird out to revenge the death of a friend in a drug deal never really comes together. Supposedly the film originally contained more humour which was cut by the film company but I can't imagine that it would improve what we see. The cast, led by Reynolds (in poor health and condition after an accident while filming CITY HEAT with Clint Eastwood) includes Candice Bergen and Charles Durning, but their performances are strictly by the numbers. George Segal is another matter and his outrageous over acting and mugging are embarrassing. Rating *
Sunday, 13 August 2017
Arnold Laven (1922-2009) was a director who spent almost his entire career in television, making episodes of just about every series imaginable. On occasions, however, he would, emerge to direct a mid-budget feature before disappearing back into television land. Among his theatrical feature were GERONIMO, A ROUGH NIGHT IN JERICHO and THE GLORY GUYS, the latter from a Sam Peckinpah script. DOWN 3 DARK STREETS is, I think, one of his most interesting movies. It belongs to that sub-genre of documentary-like thriller purporting to show the investigation methods of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, complete with narration. When FBI agent Zack (played by Kenneth Tobey, taking time off from his monster fighting duties) is murdered, another agent, John "Rip" Ripey, takes on the three cases he was working on in an attempt to discover which of his investigations led to his death. The script is by the writing team of The Gordons (Gordon Gordon and his wife Mildred) based on their own novel. Four years earlier Broderick Crawford had co-starred with Glenn Ford in the film CONVICTED, Neither actors knew that both were destined to play FBI agent Ripley in different films, Crawford in the film under discussion and Ford in 1961's EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, also based on writing by The Gordons. It is perhaps a surprise to find that Gordon Gordon went on to become a stalwart of the Walt Disney studio. The cast of DOWN 3 DARK STREETS is excellent. The ever reliable Crawford headlines with Ruth Roman and Martha Hyer supplying considerable glamour in their excellent performances. Support comes from some familiar character actors including the aforementioned Kenneth Tobey, Claude Akins and William Schallert. All in all, very acceptable late night viewing. Rating ***
|Martha Hyer and Broderick Crawford|
Tuesday, 8 August 2017
|Christine Baranski, Meryl Streep, Julie Walters|
Okay, here goes my street cred (if I ever had any). Some films exist completely outside the given parameters of "film art" and become "events" and whether you like them or not has little to do with the cinema. This is why people queue up for the sing-a-long showings of such films as THE SOUND OF MUSIC or THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. I was never an Abba fan back in the day but I have a strong affection for MAMMA MIA! for several reason, not all associated with its quality as a film. Firstly I have seen the film on DVD at least ten times because my late partner, who was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, during the final years of her life, loved music of all kinds and even at her most disturbed she could happily settle down an watch this with me. It was probably the last film she enjoyed and as it made her so happy it has a very special place in my heart. Secondly, ever since the days of the television series CYBIL I have adored Christine Baranski and will watch her in anything. Thirdly, the film does exactly what it says on the box. It isn't Bergman, Kurosawa or even Scorsese and certainly isn't Shakespeare but it was never intended to be. It is an entertainment, no more, no less and it is expertly put together by Phyllida Lloyd and her team. Of course, there are those who never quite get it - to use a phrase, they just don't hear the music. On the subject of music I am amazed at the criticism of the singing efforts of the stars of MAMMA MIA!, most of which has been aimed at Pierce Brosnan. Somebody even suggested that all the vocals should have been over-dubbed with the original Abba recordings! The only member of the cast with a musical theatre is Baranski but everybody does fine, very unrefined nature of the vocals fits perfectly the tone of the film. Sometimes it is enough to just have fun.. Rating ****
Saturday, 5 August 2017
Here we go again! POWDER RIVER is yet another re-telling of the Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday story in which the names have been changed. Wyatt becomes Chino Bull and Holliday becomes Doc Mitch Hardin (here a doctor rather than a dentist and with a brain tumor rather than tuberculosis. Based on Stuart Lake's biography of Wyatt Earp the film draws quite heavily on John Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE with the fictional Clementine becoming Debbie here. There is a street shootout at the end but this is surpassed by a well-staged gun battle on a ferry earlier in the film. Rory Calhoun is the Earp substitute and Cameron Mitchell fulfils the Holliday role. The Clanton become The Logans and it is interesting that here the script uses the names of some real-life Western badmen, Harvey Logan (played here by a suave, suited John Dehner) and his brother Loney. The real Logan was very different than depicted here and was, a couple of decades after this film is set (1875), a member of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch. French actress Corinne Calvet I found rather irritating, especially as her undoubtedly genuine French accent manages to sound fake! Debbie is played by Penny Edwards in a meatier role than she was used to in the many B-Westerns she made with the likes of Roy Rogers and Rex Allen. The rest of the cast includes Frank Ferguson, Carl Betz and Robert J. Wilke. POWDER RIVER may be a remake of both the 1939 FRONTIER MARSHAL and the 1946 John Ford film but it has enough going for it to make it worth a look. Rating : ***
|POWDER RIVER (1953)|
Friday, 4 August 2017
|KING KONG (1933)|
I first saw the original 1931 film KING KONG when it was re-released in 1950 and it is hard to explain the impact it had on me. I was four years old going on five and it is fair to say that KONG along with two other films I saw about the same time influenced me beyond all measure. The other films were Disney's SNOW WHITE and Robert Siodmak's THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE. These films, and you can add THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, set me as a life long fan of Monsters, fantasy and horror in the cinema. My next encounter with the gigantic ape came in the early 1960's when the film was revived at London's National Film Theatre and fans of fantastic cinema came from all over England to see it. I met several people on that day who became close friends and I was introduced to the world of "fandom". So KONG means a lot to me. Of course their were imitators, some good like MIGHTY JOE YOUNG and some not so good (but fun) like KONG (1961). Inevitably there were unnecessary remakes - an awul one in 1976 and a brilliant one in 2005 but none could supplant the magic and revelation of that first 1950 viewing of the original. Here are the giant apes in my collection : KING KONG (1933) SON OF KONG (1933) MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949) KONGA (1961) KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962) KING KONG ESCAPES (1967) KING KONG (1976) KING KONG LIVES (1986)' MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1998) KING KONG (2005) KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)
Tuesday, 1 August 2017
Visually splendid Western with a first class cast that is badly let down by a stodgy script. The film is a big budget adventure but fails to deliver any action until the last twenty five minutes preferring to rely on endless talk. These stars are always watchable and Cooper always adds dignity and gravitas to any role - although here his character is sketchily drawn and poor old Coop often seems ill at ease - understandably as his character could easily be dropped from the plot without much affecting the story. Motivations are all over the place. When the Indians finally attack we are presented with Apache Indians (in Mexico) who sport Mohawk style hair cuts. Budd Boetticher made a similar mistake with another tribe in the otherwise superior COMANCHE STATION. Rating : **
|Gary Cooper and Richard Widmark|
Russian born Victor Vicas (1918-1985) spent most of his career as a director in Germany and France with occasional forays into English language productions such as this. COUNT FIVE AND DIE id not really outstanding but is of some interest thanks to its uncompromising and unsentimental attitude to WW2 espionage. Nigel Patrick and Jeffrey Hunter head a team whose job is to convince the Nazis that the invasion of Europe will take place in Holland. The team soon begin to suspect that they have been infiltrated by a German spy. The lies and counter lies are well enough handled and the background of wartime London is fairly convincing given that it avoids many of the visual clichés seen it other depictions of the era. As a footnote I had an uncle who (unknowingly, at the time) was involved in similar wartime deception prior to D-Day while serving in the Royal Navy. Rating **
Monday, 31 July 2017
Hugely entertaining juvie movie full of hip talking delinquents, cat fights, hot rods and groovy music! Okay, hugely entertaining it might be but not for the reasons intended by producer Albert Zugsmith. Today this look at tearaway American youth seems more like a parody. The cast is headed by the great Mamie Van Doren who poses, pouts and (as a friend put it) protrudes as a girl under suspicion who is sent to Girls Town (run by Nuns for a bit of contrast) where she learns to conform with the help of a non-vampiric (remember BLOOD OF DRACULA?} Gloria Talbot amongst others. Of course there is music supplied by non-other than Paul Anka as a teen idol upset by finding a half naked girl in his hotel room. The cast also lists Harold Lloyd Jr. and Charles Chaplin Jr. Oh, yes I should mention the presence of singer Mel Torme as an unlikely teenager long before he became Thora Hird's son-in-law! As one of the characters says "It's queersville, man!". Rating : very cool ***
Sunday, 30 July 2017
Saturday, 29 July 2017
My second Edward L. Cahn film seen recently and, as a fan of films about Wyatt Earp, one I've wanted to see for years. And, for once, the wait was worth it. The names may have been changed but this is the familiar story told before of the Earp Brothers feud with the Clantons, culminating in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The Earps become the Johnsons, the Clantons become the Northrups and shotgun carrying Doc Holliday becomes a gambler called Brandt. The most likely reason for the name changes is that the film was made only three years after Wyatt Earp's death and his widow was, notoriously, ready to sue anybody who looked like besmirching her late hubby's name. The film is based on a novel by W.R.Burnett and tells how Frame "Saint" Johnson (Walter Huston), his brother Luther and two friends, one of whom is gambler, Brandt (Harry Carey) clean up Tombstone. As such the film parallels later films such as Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE and Sturges THE GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K.CORRAL. The tone of the film is realistic and refreshingly adult compared to most Westerns of the period and although acting styles have changed it still makes compulsive viewing. The supporting cast includes Russell Simpson (who was also in John Ford's version), a young Andy Devine and an uncredited Walter Brennan (also in the Ford film).
|Gerald Mohr and Mamie Van Doren|
GUNS, GIRLS AND GANGSTERS is a very watchable B movie about an ex-con played by Gerald Mohr (a cut-price Bogart) who plans an armoured car robbery with the not too willing aide of his ex-cellmate's wife (the beautiful Mamie van Doren). Of course it all goes belly-up when Mamie's jealous husband (Lee Van Cleef) breaks out of jail. Cleef's character isn't that bright as he not only fouls up the plans but drives at night wearing sun glasses! I suppose these days you have to be tuned in to these low budget thrillers and their B list stars but, as I am, I really enjoyed this. Rating ***
Thursday, 27 July 2017
I recently re-watched Michael Mann's 1995 film HEAT which confirmed my opinion that it was one of the best American movies of its year. This prompted me to catch up with the original version of the story which Mann made for television in 1989. Technically there is little wrong with the earlier film but when it comes to the acting it is a different story. I really can't recall any film of consequence where the acting is quite as mind numbingly bad as it is here. There is no point in naming and shaming as the blame is evenly spread over the entire cast. The sheer awfulness of the performances is only emphasised by the fact that six years later Mann decided to remake the film for the cinema and this time he had the services of Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, John Voight and Val Kilmer. Rating: **
Saturday, 22 July 2017
Always curious about a new Frankenstein movie, I picked this up for pennies on Amazon. To be honest I expected something akin to THE FRANKENSTEIN ARMY or THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY, both pretty dire. What a surprise I got! Modern day Los Angeles and Victor Frankenstein (Danny Huston no less) and his wife have created a human with the help of Dr.Praetorius but, of course "Victor fucked up!" all of which is pretty routine low-budget horror stuff (and the film certainly delivers on blood and gore). But once the creature is loose the film rises several notches thanks to the script which modernises many incidents from the novel by Mary Shelley with a voice over by the creature quoting the text and thanks to the remarkably good performance by Xavier Samuel as the luckless and ever suffering creature. I thought this delivered on all levels. Rating ***,
Saturday, 8 July 2017
There is little to distinguish this Western from a hundred others made during the 1950's but Joel McCrea could always be relied upon to give a film dignity. The supporting cast is good with Virginia Mayo as the gal with a past trying to find a new life and Leo Gordon for once playing a sympathetic character. Michael Ansara and Michael Pate are also on hand. The story, from a tale by Louis L'Amour is pretty good and there is little time to get bored between the shootouts. McCrea's greatest moment was still a few years away in Sam Peckingpah's superb RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY with Randolph Scott and, in which, McCrea died, perhaps, the most moving death in the history of Westerns. Director Thomas Carr's career was spent directing either Westerns or Serials before moving into Television where he directed episodes of almost every TV Western. THE TALL STRANGER is not outstanding but neither is it boring. Rating **
Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Further to my earlier post : According to the industry and the media Universal's reboot of THE MUMMY is a box-office flop. Generally bad reviews have contributed to predictions that this might mean the early demise of the planned "Dark Universe" franchise. Whatever the reasons for the failure it seems that everybody is eager to heap the blame on star Tom Cruise citing his "micro-management" of the production. The fact that the film was helmed by a relatively inexperienced director who, reportedly, was rather overwhelmed by the scale of the production seems to have been largely passed over. Cruise is well known to be a control freak when it comes to his films. So why did they hire him? Tom Cruise, in my opinion, is a pretty good actor, but it must never be forgotten that "Tom Cruise" is a product which Cruise, the actor, guards jealously. His reported interference in THE MUMMY has resulted in the film having the highest grossing box-office take of any Tom Cruise film. Tom knows exactly what he is doing and, surely, if you hire him it seem rather unfair to start moaning when he does it. Director Alex Kurtzman had only directed one film, the modest family drama PEOPLE LIKE US, before taking on the multi-million dollar MUMMY, although he has had a long and honourable career as a writer and producer. I'm sure that Tom Cruise will laugh all the way to the bank and, ironically, I suspect that, ultimately, so will Universal. If that happens that will almost certainly be thanks to Tom Cruise.
|"I did it my way....."|
Thursday, 15 June 2017
Richard Quine's PUSHOVER is a terrific film noir, rarely mentioned among the greats but fully worthy of that honour. It is also beautiful Kim Novak's first credited film appearance and it is easy to see why Columbia's Harry Cohn wanted to promote her as a star to replace Rita Hayworth. Fred MacMurray was an interesting actor. In later years he became associated with the television series MY THREE SONS and a stint with Disney which promoted him as a comfy father figure but he was much more interesting in the earlier days of his career when he was a perfect film noir lead. He was totally believable in the classic DOUBLE JEOPARDY and here in PUSHOVER because he always looked the type of guy who could be tempted by a femme fatale. Of course, things didn't go well for him once Barbara Stanwyck or Kim Novak had finished with him. PUSHOVER is beautifully photographed by Lester White, with almost the entire film taking place at night. Supporting cast is top-notch with Phil Carey, E.G.Marshall and Dorothy Malone. Script by Roy Huggins from a Thomas Walsh novel. Rating ****
Tuesday, 13 June 2017
The oddest thing about these films is Houdini seems to have no great interest in exploiting his enviable reputation as an escape artist and there are few examples of what he did best in these films.. If you have any interest in Houdini then these DVDs are a must, whatever the quality. They are both disappointing and essential.
THE MAN FROM BEYOND (1919) directed by Burton King. *
TERROR ISLAND (1922) directed by James Cruze *
HALDANE OF THE SECRET SERVICE (1923) directed by Harry Houdini *
Friday, 9 June 2017
|Harry Treadaway as Victor Frankenstein and Rory Kinnear as his creature in PENNY DREADFUL.|
The monsters are back! They live! They walk among us again. Thankfully, I don't mean the serial killers, maniacs or torturers that have infested our film and television screen for too long. I'm talking about the genuine article. You may have noticed that over the last few years there has been a revival of classic literary and cinematic monsters on both big and small screens. Some time back Universal revived their classic Egyptian mummy character, Im-Ho-Tep. True, he didn't look a lot like he did back in 1932 when played by Boris Karloff, but the film was fun and resulted in some fun spinoffs.
Then Dracula himself was back in a television film, a min-series and a feature film, DRACULA UNTOLD. Then there was THE FRANKENSTEIN CHRONICLES (soon to be followed by a second series) which featured elements of the original story and included Mary Shelley herself as a character.
Charlie Higson gave us JEKYLL AND HYDE which told of the original Jekyll's grandson coping with the family curse as well as bunch of other monsters, including Spring Heeled Jack. and various monster makers and hunters causing havoc in 1930's London. To my mind the best of all was the television series PENNY DREADFUL which quite convincingly managed to combine Victor Frankenstein, three of his creatures, Dorian Gray, witches, exorcisms, resurrectionists, Dr.Jekyll, Dracula and a werewolf in one narrative. Strong stuff.
|"I'll be back!"|
|The Mummy (2017)|
|The boys are back in town.|
Tuesday, 6 June 2017
Tuesday, 30 May 2017
THE SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM (1933) Directed by Kurt Nuemann. and THE SECRET OF THE CHATEAU (1934) Directed by Richard Thorpe.
These two rarities from the Universal stable are often listed as horror movies, Neither really fits neatly into that genre. It is easy to dismiss THE SECRET OF THE CHATEAU which is a pretty dull detective story about the theft of a valuable Guttenberg Bible. I found it dull in the extreme, The advertising for the film is more than slightly misleading. Rating *. THE SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM is another thing altogether. Not a horror film as such, it is a remake of a German film made the previous year which is listed on IMBd as "Horror" although that is not always a reliable source. This version has a lot going for it. It belongs to the locked room murder genre and tells of a room where murders were once committed where quests are mysteriously vanishing again. The room is situated in the castle of Robert von Hellsdorf (played by Lionel Atwill - another reason for its close association with the horror movies). The supporting cast is above average and includes the Gloria Stuart, Paul Lukas, Edward Arnold and Onslow Stevens. Atwill is usually worth the time spent watching a film and this is no exception. The film was remade again in 1938 and again in 1944 (as a musical!). Rating **
I'm going to swim against the tide with this one. When I first saw it years ago I quite liked it but seeing it again recently I found that it irritated the hell of me for a whole bunch of reasons. DEAD AGAIN was Kenneth Branagh's second film as a director. With his first, HENRY V, he was on safe, more familiar ground, Here he veers into Hitchcock territory with a psycho-drama about murder and reincarnation. Branagh and Emma Tompson play, respectively, a modern day private eye and an amnesia victim given to bad dreams of being murdered back in the late 1940's by her husband (also Branagh), In his past incarnation Ken has a goatee beard and the modern Ken doesn't and even when he is looking at a picture of his previous self does he or anybody else seem to realise. It is rather like Superman disguising himself as Clarke Kent and the entire staff of the Daily Planet failing to notice.Branagh's direction seems over emphatic as do all the performances. VERTIGO remade by luvvies springs to mind. I remain a Branagh fan, With Andy Garcia, Robin Williams. Rating **
My interest in films was nurtured by my mother who was a great cinemagoer. But that interest was really encouraged by my school film society and in particular by two teachers, particularly an American named Jim Kitses. Jim went on to work and the British Film Institute, to write a wonderful book on Westerns and to lecture on film at San Francisco University. .I'm happy say Jim and I are still in contact today. This picture shows Jim (with moustache) having a relaxed chat with film director Samuel Fuller.
Thursday, 25 May 2017
I was, until a few days ago, unfamiliar with the work of director Daniel Birt, except for the interesting THREE WEIRD SISTERS. If this neat little thriller is anything to go by his others films may be worth investigation. To give away any plot points would be unfair as the script, written by Michael Pertwee, twists this way and that like a snake. The film has a dreamlike quality (or should I say nightmare) which is enhanced by the dramatic photography of Erwin Hillier (whose career began with Murnau and Lang and ended with Harryhausen.) The words "Film Noir" are used far too o.ften these days but this seems to me to be a rare example of a genuine British film noir. The cast are more than competent with Richard Todd and Valerie Hobson in the lead and excellent support from Tom Walls as the dogged Railway detective and a nice cameo by Dora Bryan as a slatternly waitress. Rating ***
Tuesday, 23 May 2017
The Japanese certainly have a flair for horror movies. This film has more in common with William Castle's THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL than it does with the somewhat over praised JUON : THE GRUDGE. The film may not have an enjoyable performance by Vincent Price but it certainly delivers on horror. A group of people find themselves unable to leave a creepy old mansion which is complete with a sinister hunchback caretaker. As cliché demands the hapless characters are picked of with one by one. The film has several different titles and the copy viewed on You Tube is the Italian print (although listed as HOUSE OF TERRORS). The Japanese cast are dubbed into Italian but there are English sub-titles. Alternative Titles : THE GHOST OF THE HUNCHBACK.
Monday, 22 May 2017
Back in November I announced that I would be returning to film reviews in the New Year. Due to various circumstances, both personal and technical, this never happened. The world turns and it is now possible to reopen the Fleapit, While there will be a wider range of posts such as the promised return to reviews (of a sort), broader comments on the film world in general etc. I will, on occasions. continue to list films in my DVD collection. As before, comments are both encouraged and welcome.